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South Dakota state legislature deals withs two COVID cases

Two east river legislators are dealing with COVID-19, forcing them to partake remotely in the legislative session. House leadership says that they have been prepared for this moment.
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Published: Feb. 9, 2021 at 8:27 AM CST
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PIERRE, S.D. (KEVN) - The South Dakota state legislature is dealing with its first two positive COVID cases since the start of the legislative session.

A number of state legislators had dealt with COVID prior to the start of the legislative session, however, these are the first two positive cases since the legislative session started on January 12th.

State Representative Aaron Aylward (R-Harrisburg) and State Rep. Chris Karr (R-Sioux Falls) both tested positive for COVID-19. Aylward tested positive after attending a “legislative coffee” event this past weekend in Sioux Falls. Karr tested positive Monday afternoon, after being in the State Capitol throughout that morning.

After finding out about Aylward’s positive diagnosis, legislatures who were deemed to be “close contacts” were given the option to work remotely, via Microsoft Teams. However, no members other than Karr did so. Aylward was also given the option to attend remotely Monday, but felt too ill to do so.

Karr attended the House session remotely while awaiting the results of his COVID test. Karr complimented the legislature’s ability to implement a more “hybrid” approach. He says that attending the House session remotely went smoothly.

“I’m glad that we put in place, we want people to participate and engage in the process,” Karr said. “I think it went pretty well frankly.”

Karr said he decided to get a test after he had a dry throat. He chalked it up to what he believed to be the weather, but decided to get a test anyway. As of Monday, he reported not having any major symptoms.

Speaker Spencer Gosch (R-Glenham) says it was not a matter of if they got a positive case, but a matter of when.

“We’ve gone down to the nuts and bolts, we made some rule changes earlier this year at the legislative procedures committee,” said Gosch. “We have the ability to go remote... It is a secured and locked network, in which the individual will be able to participate. Not only in testimony, but in voting, they will be able to voice vote on the floor.”

Gosch responded to criticisms related to the fact that the House does not require masks, whereas the Senate does.

“Safety precautions as a whole... We have temperature checking stations outside of each chamber, we have N95 masks (or the equivalent to) available to all members, sanitization stations all over the Capitol, signs requesting individuals do wear masks, but giving them ability to exercise some personal responsibility.”

As of Monday evening, a number of legislators had requested a COVID-19 test. However, Aylward and Karr were the only two positive tests. They will now be required to quarantine and get a negative test result before they can return in person.